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French phrase of the day: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse

If you find yourself in Brittany in the winter (or the summer, come to that) you may need this.

French phrase of the day: Il pleut comme vache qui pisse
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond

Why do I need to know il pleut comme vache qui pisse?

Because it’s a nice northern expression, used liberally by drenched Frenchmen during the rainy season in Brittany (which lasts for about 11 months of the year, so the story goes).

What does it mean?

Directly translated as “it’s raining like a pissing cow” this phrase is used to describe – or more aptly, complain about – an oppressive rainfall.

For obvious reasons, the word pisse (piss) may make this saying inappropriate to use on a work call, but it’s right at home in everyday conversation with friends or family members.

You will most likely hear this expression during a particularly torrential downpour of rain – when the buckets of water falling from the sky may feel like a Breton cow is relieving itself upon you.

Anglophones may find that this is a convenient substitute for the colloquial “it’s raining cats and dogs” or the slightly more vulgar “it's pissing down” with the added bonus of surprising your companions with your colourful vocabulary.

Use it like this

Zut, il pleut comme vache qui pisse ! – Heck, it’s raining like a pissing cow!

On allait se promener hier, mais il pleuvait comme vache qui pisse – We were going to go for a walk yesterday, but it was pissing down.

Je ne vais pas à la plage demain car je suis sûre qu’il va pleuvoir comme vache qui pisse – I’m not going to the beach tomorrow because I’m sure it will chuck down


Il pleut des cordes – it’s raining ropes (the French equivalent of 'raining cats and dogs')

Il pleut des hallebards – this is infrequently used and pretty archaic but it means that it's raining halberds – a type of long medieval battleaxe – if you want to add some history to your expressions.

Member comments

  1. When I was growing up in Washington State in the ‘60’s, the expression was
    “It’s raining like a cow pissing on a flat rock”

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For members


French Expression of the Day: C’est de la daube

A daube is a delicious and hearty French stew - but this expression is not something that you would aspire to.

French Expression of the Day: C’est de la daube

Why do I need to know c’est de la daube?

Because you might want to express your strong opinion on a movie/book/TV show you’ve just watched in informal but relatively polite society.

What does it mean?

C’est de la daube  – pronounced say de la dorb – translates as ‘it’s a piece of crap’ (rubbish, while a perfectly reasonable alternative, just doesn’t quite cut it) and is perfect for use in discussions about books, films and TV shows … there’s even a book about cinema called C’est de la daube (Chroniques de cinéma)

The phrase can also be used to describe things that have little value and can be discarded after use – or, basically, anything you want to describe as ‘crap’.

Famously, daube is a classic Provençal stew made with inexpensive beef braised in wine, vegetables, garlic, and herbes de Provence, and traditionally cooked in a daubière, a braising pan. The question, then, is how a delicious and hearty stew came to be used to describe something cheap and nasty and best avoided.

It’s thought that this phrase has its origins in the kitchen. According to Gaston Esnault in his “dictionnaire des argots”, ‘daube’ in this less-savoury context is a 19th-century word of Lyon origin to describe fruits and meat as being ‘spoiled’, applied to fruits and meats.

Notoriously, French programmers who like the Linux system often refer to Windows as Windaube…

Use it like this

C’est de la daube cette film – it’s crap, this film

Ton opinion, c’est de la daube – your opinion is rubbish